I wrote this scene over two years ago, back when I was editing my debut novel, The Truth about Miss Ashbourne. I was struggling with getting this scene right, and so I decided to write it from William's POV (point of view) in order to better understand his character. And I ended up loving him and this scene even more! I hope you'll enjoy this fun little insight into William!
If you've read The Truth about Miss Ashbourne, then you'll recognize this scene. If you haven't, then here's a bit of background: William Rowley (our POV character) has just inherited the estate of Havenfield after the death of Sir Charles, who is Juliana Ashbourne's estranged grandfather. Sir Charles left Juliana an inheritance, but in order to claim her ten thousand pounds, she must spend a month at Havenfield with her family she's never met. Juliana has just arrived during a rainstorm, and William comes across her seeking shelter in the stables.
*** This has not been professionally edited, so any mistakes or typos are my own. Happy Reading!
The Truth about Miss Ashbourne - William
Stowaway sensed the coming storm long before I did. He tossed his head and pulled against his bridle, startling me from my thoughts to notice the uptick in the wind, the black clouds pooling on the horizon.
I rubbed his neck to calm his agitation, but he only let out an uneasy snort.
“All right, we’ll head back,” I muttered to him, turning him to face the oncoming tempest. Lady Rowley and the rest of the family would surely have left for their dinner party by now, so I would be safe from discovery.
I dug my heels into Stowaway’s flanks, and he leaped into a gallop, dashing across the wooded hill on the western edge of the estate. The howling wind whipped past me, but I paid it no mind. I grinned into the gale, urging my mount faster, faster. Stowaway responded with a burst of speed, hooves barreling into the grass at a furious pace, kicking up clods of dirt that soon turned to mud as the rain descended upon us.
We emerged from the trees, Havenfield looming before us. Even through the wind and rain and clouds, the estate still inspired awe: gray stones stained with moisture, slick green ivy climbing the walls. The windows, normally brightly lit, were murky in the descending darkness. No doubt the servants had already retreated below stairs, taking advantage of their well-deserved evening off.
The deluge from the skies left no part of me dry. My sodden riding jacket snapped in the wind behind me, my hair whipping into my eyes. As we approached the stable, I reined in Stowaway, slowing him to a trot as we entered the open stable door.
I dismounted, dropping to my feet with a squelch of boots, and turned to lead Stowaway to his stall.
I stopped short, staring at the opposite end of the stable. In the doorway, a woman stood—no, stooped, was a better word. Her back was to me as she dragged something behind her. She was wet to the bone, her bonnet flapping in the squall. She stumbled into the shelter of the stable as she yanked what I could now see was a sizeable leather trunk. She dropped it with a crash, startling the horses in their stalls. Not seeming to notice, she ran back to the open doors and wrenched them shut against the storm.
What on earth? She was clearly not one of the house servants, as I would recognize any of them on sight. Her dress was plain, worn. Was she a tenant’s daughter, then, caught in the storm? But why in the blazes did she have such an enormous trunk with her?
The woman leaned against the closed door with her hands, her shoulders slumped and shaking. Was she hurt? I stepped forward, intent on calling out to her, when she whirled and marched to her trunk. She kicked it once, twice, and then--
What emerged from her lips next stunned me into silence. Never in all my time aboard my ships, or in any gentlemen’s club in London, or even after a losing race in Newmarket, had I ever heard such a line of cursing. She threw her profanities at the trunk, hands balled into fists, the slightest hint of hysterics coloring her words.
She finished, breathing hard, glaring at her trunk. My eyebrows were raised nearly to the wooden beams above us. Any concern I had for a supposed injury had vanished as soon as she started speaking. She was obviously unharmed, and fully capable of stringing together quite the impressive sentence.
“Well, that was most unexpected.”
The words sprung from my mouth before I had a chance to think them over. The poor woman jumped, wheeling about to gape at me, her soaked dress swinging about her boots. Stowaway whinnied, nervous in the presence of a stranger. I led him deeper into the stable.
“Might I inquire as to what offense your unfortunate trunk has committed?” I asked.
She stood just beyond the reach of the lantern light, her face nearly obscured in the oncoming twilight. She uttered not a sound, staring at me in . . . Dread? Anger? I couldn’t say. I continued to move towards the warm light encircling the lantern, intent on getting a better look at my unexpected visitor.
She finally spoke, ignoring my question. “You frightened me.”
“I do apologize. Though in my defense, I was not expecting to find anyone here when I returned, let alone—“ I waved a hand towards her. “Might I ask, what are you doing here?”
The woman dropped her gaze, fidgeting with her sleeve. “I . . . I was caught in the rain, and needed shelter.”
As I drew nearer, she backed away, skirting behind her trunk. Clearly she had not been lying when she said I frightened her. I stopped my approach. She was as skittish as a fox on the hunt.
“You were caught in the rain . . . with a trunk?”
She still stared at her feet, and I used the opportunity to examine her closer. She wore a dark dress, blackened further by the dampness of the rain, a limp bonnet hanging from her neck. Her hair splayed across her cheeks and forehead, water dripping from her curled locks.
“Yes,” she said, in a tone that dared me to argue with her. I furrowed my brow. There was something familiar about her voice. Where had I heard it before?
She finally forced her eyes up and I found myself staring into a pair of deep brown eyes, narrow and indignant. It all came together in an instant: our sudden collision, her panic at her lost coins, her harsh words.
“I know you,” I said, stepping closer. “From London. We bumped into one another.”
I peered at her, utterly bewildered. I’d thought about our exasperating encounter a number of times over the last few days, but never once had I imagined I would ever meet her again, let alone in my own stable, a full day’s journey from London.
It was clear she recognized me as well. She froze, eyes fixed on mine, and the emotions of our previous confrontation flared within me. I had aided her as any gentleman would, and she had flung my kindness back at me with unaccountable rudeness.
“Rather,” I said, irritation finding its way into my words, “you knocked into me, spilled your coins, and then shouted at me when I offered to replace them.”
“I did not shout,” she said.
“Well, it certainly wasn’t a ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’”
She did not have a response to that, from which I took a small amount of pleasure. She ought to feel some remorse for her ill-mannered words.
I stepped forward once again, utilizing the voice I normally reserved for idle sailors under my command. “Now, who are you? A name, please.”
A flash of fire crossed her eyes, and her chin jutted up. “My name is Juliana Ashbourne, and I must say—“
“You are Miss Ashbourne?” I could not even begin to conceal the shock in my voice. I gaped at her.
“I am,” she said, jaw tight, eyes squinting.
My mind struggled to connect the pieces of our fragmented association. This woman, the woman I had met in London, was Lady Rowley’s wayward granddaughter? But why had she—no, it made perfect sense now why she had been on Kemble Street. She must have been to see Mr. Finch. Though that did nothing to explain her extreme agitation that day. If she had just learned of her enormous inheritance, I would have expected a bit more elation.
I refocused my attention on her, and she shifted uncomfortably beneath my persistent gaze.
“This is a strange coincidence indeed,” I said, shaking my head and holding tight to Stowaway’s reins as his hooves danced. “I knew Lady Rowley had written to you, but she never received a response, as far as I was aware.”
If Mr. Finch had delivered Lady Rowley’s letter to this young woman over a week ago, why had she not written to warn of her impending arrival? The post from London generally only required a day or two at most for delivery. That she should appear on the estate without warning, open invitation notwithstanding, was rather impolite.
“I did write, and the postmaster assured me that my note would arrive two days ago, though, clearly, it did not.” Though she met my eyes without flinching, there was uncertainty and anxiety in the way she clasped her arms about her slim waist. She continued on, voice wavering slightly. “Would you—if you could—be so kind as to help me into the house? I’m afraid no one answered my knock.”
I frowned. Mr. Banfield would surely be mortified to have missed the arrival of his mistress’s granddaughter. “No, I would imagine not. The family is dining out, and the servants were given the evening off.”
Stowaway still pranced restlessly beside me. He was unused to waiting for his usual rub down, and in the rain and chill of the evening, he surely was freezing. I hated to make Miss Ashbourne wait, but my mount needed immediate care. I nodded towards my horse. “I apologize. I must be so presumptuous as to beg a few minutes. I need to dry him off.”
“Could you not send out another stable hand to do that?”
I had already begun moving towards Stowaway’s stall, but paused at her question. “I beg your pardon?”
She brushed back a wet strand of hair from her cheeks. “Is there not another who can cover for you?”
Understanding was quick to dawn in my mind. In my surprise at learning her identity, I had made the nearly unforgiveable error of not making myself known to her. Though there was hardly a society-approved set of rules regarding proper introductions in a stable during a rainstorm, the fault was still entirely my own. And yet . . .
“I am terribly sorry, but I must ask. Who do you think I am?” I couldn’t stop myself from posing the question. I wanted to be certain of my suspicion.
“Are you not a stable hand?” But her voice wavered, even as her eyes raked over my clothes, from my ratty riding jacket to my mud-splattered boots.
She thought me a stable hand. There was no deceit in her face; she had not any idea I was her grandfather’s heir.
I couldn’t help it. I laughed. Oh, it was simply too perfect. Mother would never allow me to forget this, once she heard the story.
“I am glad you find my confusion so amusing,” Miss Ashbourne said, glowering at me.
I chuckled, shaking my head. “Oh, it’s not you. Well, it is, but only partly.”
No doubt she thought me soft in the head. I was making not the slightest bit of sense. I attempted to explain.
“Just last week my mother was harping on me to purchase a new riding outfit, claiming she could hardly distinguish me from the servants.”
In fact, Mother had threatened to raid my rooms and toss out my jacket, at which I had grinned and asked her to take my evening jackets with her, so I might have the excuse of having nothing appropriate to wear the next time I was invited to a social engagement. She had rapped me on the shoulder, though her eyes twinkled.
Miss Ashbourne’s features tightened, her mouth parting slightly. It was unkind of me to prolong her ignorance. I moved forward and bowed.
“Please, allow me to introduce myself. I’m William Rowley.”
A red flush stole over Miss Ashbourne’s face with alarming speed.“I did not mean to . . . That is, I just assumed—“
Though I was normally not one to find pleasure in another person’s distress, it did not escape me that this was something of an apt penance for Miss Ashbourne’s treatment of me in London. I had been nothing but kind to her, and yet she had rejected my offer of help with such vehemence one would have thought I was Lucifer in disguise.
“Why did you not say anything?” Her voice shook with the force of her restrained anger. Was she truly angry with me? It was she who had turned up so unexpectedly in my stable, and who had treated me with such disdain at our first meeting.
I forced down my own irritation, determined to act the part of a gentlemen whether she appreciated it or not. “You hardly gave me the chance. I was not intentionally deceitful.”
A gust of wind swept into the stable from behind me, swirling the dirt around our feet. Miss Ashbourne shivered, wrapping her arms more tightly about her middle.
Blast it all. Here I was thinking myself quite the image of chivalry for keeping my tone civil, when a young lady stood before me, soaked and freezing and entirely at my mercy. No matter Miss Ashbourne’s treatment of me, my mother had raised me to be a gentleman.
A saddle blanket hung over a nearby stall. Leaving Stowaway’s reins to hang loose, knowing he would never bolt from the warmth of the stable, I grabbed the blanket and approached Miss Ashbourne. “Here, take this. You’re cold.”
She avoided my gaze, regarding the blanket as though I offered her a bucket of manure. But before I had to force it into her hands, she snatched from me, wrapping it about her with obvious relief. I tramped to the open doors, banging wildly in the gale, and forced them closed. Returning to Stowaway, I took his reins once again. “I’d suggest we wait a few minutes before going in. These storms blow over quickly, and I need to rub him down before he grows chilled.”
At her brief nod, I led Stowaway to his stall near the center of the stable, my feet sloshing within my boots. I thought vaguely that I ought to be cold as well, waterlogged as I was. Instead, a strange edginess permeated my body, and it had little to do with my current state of dampness, and everything to do with the young woman standing not ten paces away.
I unstrapped my saddle and lifted it from Stowaway’s back, the leather slippery as I hefted it to its place, then began rubbing my horse down with a blanket. My hands were glad of the familiar work; it settled my whirling thoughts. As I labored, I stole glances at my unexpected visitor. She seated herself on the ancient, splintery bench across from Stowaway’s stall, removing her bonnet from where it hung uselessly from her neck. Pushing back the locks of hair that clung stubbornly to her face, she tucked them back into her knot as best she could, though the mess of dark waves refused to be tamed entirely.
She rubbed a hand across her forehead, sighing wearily. Guilt bit at me; so far I had not been terribly kind in my reception of Sir Charles’s granddaughter. I hated to imagine what he would think of how I’d welcomed her to his home. The poor girl was clearly exhausted, no doubt from a day spent traveling from London, and then to have her arrival at Havenfield be completely unexpected . . .
The tension around my eyes softened the longer I regarded her. From what I gathered from the family, Juliana Ashbourne was very nearly alone in life, her mother having passed several years previously and her father working as a ship captain, no doubt away from her for months or years at a time. She had no siblings, and no close relations, save for Lady Rowley and the Woodwards.
From simply observing her, I would never have guessed her to be related to them. She had none of the fair features or golden locks of the Rowley women. Instead, her white face stood in stark contrast with her brown waves, dark eyes, and reserved dress. I recalled her comment from London, when I had expressed concern over her pale complexion--That is not unusual, I assure you.
I finished drying Stowaway, and laid a fresh blanket upon his back as he released a content whinny. I led him to his trough and left him with a gentle pat.
As I closed the stall door, Miss Ashbourne watched me, her features guarded and tight. I crossed my arms and leaned back against the door, meeting her gaze.
She surprised me by speaking first. “I feel I ought to offer you and apology.”
Whatever I might have expected from her, it certainly was not that. “And what would that be for?” I asked.
She inhaled before she spoke. “For my treatment of you when we met in London. I was not myself that day and beg your pardon.”
I tipped my head to one side, examining her closer. Did she mean her words, or was this simply her attempt to smooth any ruffled feathers? “I appreciate your apology and will accept it, but only if you would be so kind as to answer a question for me. That day in London, what was it that upset you so very much?”
Now that I knew her identity, my lingering confusion from our first meeting only rankled me more. If Mr. Finch had indeed informed her that day of the ten thousand pounds that awaited her, why had she been so distraught?
Her expression did not change, save for a tightening about her eyes. “It was nothing.”
“I sincerely doubt that. You were out of sorts about something.”
Her eyes hardened, and I regretted my words almost immediately. If I was attempting to make her feel more comfortable, I was doing a deucedly terrible job of it.
“Even if I had,” she snapped, “I would not likely tell you.”
She broke our gaze and stared resolutely at the stable doors. I was making a real mess of this. I needed to try a different tactic.
“Lady Rowley has been most anxious to hear from you,” I said.
“I did write.”
I nodded, focusing on the dirt floor that stretched between us. “She wanted to go see you in London herself, once Mr. Finch had located you. But we—that is to say, myself and Mrs. Woodward—“
“Yes. We thought it best to try a letter first. Perhaps a bit less shocking?”
If I hoped for any sort of revelation on how Lady Rowley’s letter had been received, I was sorely disappointed. Miss Ashbourne only adjusted the blanket around her shoulders and made no effort to respond.
“She’s been quite restless these past weeks. She will be pleased you decided to come.” That much was true, although Lady Rowley would surely be mortified over the welcome—or lack thereof—that Miss Ashbourne had received.
She nodded, offering nothing more, and I gave up my attempt at conversation, allowing us to fall into a weighty silence. I could not begin to guess the thoughts that ran through her mind, no matter how much I wished to know them. Lady Rowley had, in her letter, offered her granddaughter the use of a coach, if she decided to come to Havenfield. Why then had Miss Ashbourne taken it upon herself to arrange her own transportation?
My concern only continued to grow the longer we sat in silence. From my few interactions with her, I could well guess that Miss Ashbourne had very little desire to be at Havenfield. And from what I knew of her mother’s past, she had every right to be reluctant and wary. But the lure of ten thousand pounds . . . I knew not a soul who would turn away that sum of money, and she had clearly decided the money was worth the price of a visit to Havenfield.
I couldn’t begrudge her that. I would have made the same decision, in her shoes. But my fingers twitched against my arms, still crossed against my chest. Lady Rowley had been hoping for weeks, months now, that her granddaughter would first be located and then that she would consequently decide to visit the family estate. How would she feel when it became clear her granddaughter had only come to secure her inheritance?
I exhaled. Lady Rowley would need to sort that out on her own. It was a problem twenty years in the making, and I had neither the knowledge nor desire to interfere.
The rain soon slowed, until only a random patter of raindrops fell on the stable roof, falling from the tree branches above. Miss Ashbourne had not moved one inch from her seat on the bench, shoulders stiff, blanket still clutched about her.
“Shall we?” I asked, pushing myself away from the stall. She nodded and stood, then looked to her trunk, lying all but forgotten by the stable door. She grimaced, clearly remembering the effort it had taken for her to get it there.
Well, I could help her in that, at least. I strode to the trunk and lifted it into my arms. It was much heavier than I’d expected, and I shifted it, trying to find the best position to carry it.
“You needn’t have brought the candlesticks,” I said, endeavoring to introduce a bit of lightness to our exchange.
My eyebrows lifted of their own accord. “Books?”
She did not comment further, pressing her lips together in a thin line. What sort of young woman touted about a trunk full of books, especially to a country estate?
She is a governess, I reminded myself. Though I did not seem to recall Rachel or Rebecca’s governess having any significant collection of books.
I shook my head. Miss Ashbourne’s reading habits were hardly of importance at the moment. I needed to get her inside, warmed, and dried.
She opened the door for me as we left the shelter of the stable. Clouds still hung low in the sky, but the rain had cleared almost entirely. Miss Ashbourne followed closely on my heels as I led her around the western wing of the house.
“We’ll go through the servant’s entrance,” I explained, adjusting my grip on the trunk. “Since the family is not expected until late, no one was keeping watch at the front entrance.”
“Clearly.” I barely made out her response, but her tone made me hide a smile. She spoke again, surprising me. “And why did you not join the family?”
The family. Not her family or mine. Her word choice revealed more about her than anything she’d said so far tonight.
“I am afraid I do not care for social calls,” I said. “Though if anyone inquires, I was buried in work and could not spare the time.”
We made our way through the dark, thankfully arriving at the servant’s entrance after only a minute.
“If you would?” I nodded at the door and Miss Ashbourne hurried to comply. I edged inside, the trunk growing heavy in my arms. Exactly how many books did she have stashed away inside?
We walked down the hallway toward the servant’s hall. Their evening had only just begun, and the sound of laughter found its way to us. I wished to allow them their time, but Miss Ashbourne was a more pressing matter.
As I stepped into the brightly lit hall, all sound ceased as the servants caught sight of me. They had gathered about the long table, dishes and mugs scattered along its length, and their smiles froze on their faces. Almost as one, they jumped to their feet, staring at me in consternation.
I forced back a sigh. No matter how I tried, I could not seem to convince my staff to treat me with anything less than the utmost respect and deference. Not that I minded their politeness, but a bit less bowing and scraping would have been a welcome change.
“Mr. Rowley!” Mr. Banfield exclaimed from the head of the table.
“Do sit down, everyone. I apologize for interrupting.” I set Miss Ashbourne’s trunk against the wall as the woman herself skirted into the room behind me. I was almost relieved when the attention of every person in the hall immediately switched to her. Mr. Banfield signaled the staff to sit, and they did, though whispers broke out as they watched Miss Ashbourne with unconcealed curiosity. I could only imagine the gossip that would erupt within the next hour, though I could do nothing to help either of our appearances.
I went directly to Mr. Banfield, and the butler stepped away from the table for privacy. I motioned at Mrs. Pike to join us. As housekeeper, she would need to know the details.
“I have some . . . interesting news,” I murmured as they leaned their heads towards me. “I had the unexpected privilege of coming across Miss Ashbourne, Lady Rowley’s granddaughter, in the stable tonight.”
They both gaped at me.
“In the stable?” Mr. Banfield asked, incredulous.
“Indeed,” I said in a wry voice. “Apparently she took it upon herself to travel to Havenfield without our knowledge, and arrived just as the storm began. She found shelter in the stable.”
We all three turned to look at Miss Ashbourne. She hadn’t moved from her position by the entrance, hair still an unruly tangle, staring at her boots. My sympathy for her only grew. No matter her motivation in coming to Havenfield, she deserved a much better reception than this.
“The poor dear,” Mrs. Pike said. “I’ll have a room and meal prepared immediately, and a bath.”
“My thoughts precisely,” I said. She hurried away, waving a maid to her side. I gestured for Mr. Banfield to follow me, and we made our way back to Miss Ashbourne. She jerked up her head at our approach, jaw set.
“Miss Ashbourne, this is Mr. Banfield, the butler,” I said.
“Miss Ashbourne, do allow me to apologize most profusely,” Mr. Banfield said. “I am terribly embarrassed you arrived without our knowledge, and just as the storm began. I hope this will not have a lasting impression on your visit here.”
“Thank you,” she managed with a nod.
Mrs. Pike joined us in the next moment, and I introduced her as well.
“I’m having a room prepared for you as we speak,” she said, addressing Miss Ashbourne. “I’ll take you there myself, and we’ll have a footman bring round your trunk.” She glanced at the trunk resting on the floor where I’d left it. “Where are the rest of your things?”
“It’s just the one trunk,” Miss Ashbourne mumbled.
“Oh.” Mrs. Pike tilted her head to the side, peering at her with interest. I was similarly curious. Rebecca never traveled with fewer than three trunks packed to the brim. “No matter. Let me arrange something for you to eat, and then I’ll take you upstairs.”
Mrs. Pike and Mr. Banfield excused themselves, barking orders at the rest of the staff. Miss Ashbourne removed the blanket from around her shoulders, draping it over one arm. Her hands shook, and her eyes flitted around the room, wide and unsure.
I stared at her. How had I not noticed before? She was absolutely terrified. It was obvious, now that I saw it. Her strong words and jutted chin were but a facade. She had traveled far from her home to stay at a strange estate with a family she had never met. Of course she was terrified.
“I will be sure to inform your grandmother of your arrival when she returns,” I said, hoping to alleviate at least a portion of her nerves. Instead, her eyes closed for the briefest moment, and she looked about ready to collapse. That clearly had not been the right thing to say. Miss Ashbourne needed a hot meal and rest, not a dreaded confrontation with her estranged grandmother. I hurried to correct my mistake. “And I will make certain you are not disturbed tonight.”
She blinked up at me, and my mind went curiously blank as she caught me in her dark eyes, deep pools reflecting the shimmering candlelight.
“Thank you,” she said, perhaps a bit reluctantly.
I shook myself from my reverie. “Try and rest. You’ll have quite a few people eager to meet you in the morning.” As it was, I knew it would take all my efforts to convince Lady Rowley to leave her granddaughter be until morning. I couldn’t postpone their meeting any longer than that. Though, if my experience with Miss Ashbourne was any indication, Lady Rowley might soon wish she had not so eagerly anticipated her granddaughter’s arrival. Miss Ashbourne possessed a sharp tongue and an even sharper temper.
I couldn’t help one last comment, a smile tugging at my lips. “And do try not to wander off. I shall have to be on my guard if our meetings are always to be so eventful.”
She glared at me, but it was worth it for the blush that crept over her cheeks. Her looks were much improved with a bit of color, I thought. I stifled a laugh and offered her a short bow in recompense.
“Good night, Miss Ashbourne.”
And with that, I left her in the care of Mrs. Pike, and went in search of my own quarters. I was certain I had not seen the last of Miss Ashbourne’s temper. It promised to be an entertaining month.
I hope you enjoyed this fun little excerpt! If you want to read the whole story from Juliana's point of view, you can grab The Truth about Miss Ashbourne on Amazon.
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